“I was living in a rainforest. I knew the trees and the frogs, the lush green life. With no warning, I got shoved into the desert. I know this is the desert. So take back your plastic palm trees and your cups of water; quit telling me it’s the same. I know better. I know where I live.” -Megan Devine, from collected journals
The desert has many teachings.
In the desert, turn toward emptiness,
fleeing the self.
Stand alone, Ask no one’s help,
And your being will quiet, Free from the bondage of things.
Those who cling to the world, endeavor to free them;
those who are free, praise.
Care for the sick, But live alone,
Happy to drink from the waters of sorrow,
To kindle Love’s fire
With the twigs of a simple life.
Thus you will live in the desert.
-Metchtild of Magdeburg, excerpted in Jane Hirshfield’s Women In Praise of the Sacred
Added to today’s prompt, about a week ago, I wrote about an excerpt from Cheryl Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things the following:
“Don’t listen to those people who suggest you should be ‘over’ your daughter’s death by now… Some of those people believe they’re being helpful by minimizing your pain. Others are scared of the intensity of your loss and so they use their words to push your grief away. Many of those people love you and are worthy of your love, but they are not the people who will be helpful to you when it comes to healing the pain of your daughter’s death. They live on Planet Earth. You live on Planet My Baby Died.”
The metaphor of the desert still implies that I am co-existing on the same planet as people who have not been through a significant loss. I prefer the metaphor of another planet. Even within the past week, I have come to be aware of other planets that people visit, such as Planet My Spouse Died, or Planet My Best Friend Died, or Planet My Grown Child Died. We are all orbiting in the same galaxy, but all distinct. I do not pretend to have visited any of the other planets, nor understand their language of loss. What we do all have in common, however, is that we have (unwillingly) embarked on this journey of grief. Every journey is unique, but we can travel alongside each other.
This morning I reacted badly to a comment that someone made to me. He is on his own grief journey right now, and he said “It’s all part of life and we grieve and then we move on.” My initial reaction was “HOW can I move on? How can I possibly move on? How can I move back from Planet My Baby Died to Planet Earth?”
Then I thought about it a little more, and realized that what he said at face value is not how I have to internalize the words. “Moving on” does not mean that life is the same as it was before. “Moving on” does not mean forgetting. “Moving on” could be interpreted as “moving forward” and I recognize that life will continue to move forward and that I need to move with it.
I also realize that everyone’s loss journey is different. Loss hit me in a certain way because of my experiences; my interactions with the world; my interactions with other people. I can form no judgement about how this person approaches his own loss, because it is not the same. Not every loss is life-altering. Mine is. But this is not the first loss in my life. It is only the first loss where I was catapulted to another planet.
Somehow, eventually, I have to figure out how to live on Earth again. Learn to breathe Earth’s air and speak Earth’s language.